White House Spokesman Josh Earnest on Monday refused to say the Obama administration would target leaders of the Islamic State with airstrikes, and indicated that officials charged with developing a plan to fight the terrorist group have not decided this question yet.
Earnest was asked at Monday's White House briefing whether the Defense Department would be looking to target leaders of the terrorist group, and was reminded that in the past, the Obama administration had set a goal of killing or capturing Al Qaeda's leadership.
President Barack Obama is preparing to boost airstrikes against the Islamic State, but the White House says it's not clear if that includes bomb strikes against leaders of the terrorist group. (AP Photo/Darren Hauck)
"Do you want to see the same thing happen with ISIS?" a reporter asked in reference to the Islamic State, which is also known as ISIL. "Do you want to take those leaders out?"
But Earnest wouldn't go that far. "The president is still reviewing the plans and proposals that the Department of Defense has been hard at work developing," he said.
Earnest said when the Islamic State first "cropped up," the government stepped up efforts to gather intelligence about the group and its activities. That intelligence includes "plans and target lists" that Obama is considering as part of his plan.
But Earnest said, "Those plans are still being reviewed by the president."
A reporter pressed Earnest again. "When you say degrade or destroy ISIS, that should mean take out their leadership, isn't that right?"
"Depriving these organizations of leaders either on the battlefield or in command or control centers certainly would have the effect of degrading and possibly ultimately destroying them," Earnest replied. "But I don't want to get ahead of any decision-making at the presidential level that still needs to be done."
President Barack Obama last week laid out his plan for fighting the Islamic State, but refused to call it a war. Instead, he said the U.S. would increase airstrikes, and said those strikes would be to support efforts by Iraq's military and moderate Syrians that the U.S. would help train and equip.
Obama's plan also called for more intelligence sharing and humanitarian aide.
Republicans had criticized the president weeks earlier for admitting he doesn't have any strategy for dealing with the group. But Obama's announcement still left many Republicans worried that airstrikes alone would not be enough to beat back a terrorist group that has taken over large parts of Iraq and Syria.
House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said Republicans don't believe Obama's plan will get the job done, although Boehner indicated there is little else Republicans can do other than let Obama try.
"An F-16 is not a strategy, and airstrikes alone will not accomplish what we're trying to accomplish," Boehner said.